Book Review: Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

Book Review: Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

Thank you to Ecco books for sending me a free copy of Raft of Stars in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

It’s the summer of 1994 in Claypot, Wisconsin, and the lives of ten-year-old Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin are shaped by the two fathers they don’t talk about.

One night, tired of seeing his best friend bruised and terrorized by his no-good dad, Fish takes action. A gunshot rings out and the two boys flee the scene, believing themselves murderers. They head for the woods, where they find their way onto a raft, but the natural terrors of Ironsforge gorge threaten to overwhelm them.

Four adults track them into the forest, each one on a journey of his or her own. Fish’s mother Miranda, a wise woman full of fierce faith; his granddad, Teddy, who knows the woods like the back of his hand; Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant and poet looking for connection; and Sheriff Cal, who’s having doubts about a life in law enforcement.

The adults track the boys toward the novel’s heart-pounding climax on the edge of the gorge and a conclusion that beautifully makes manifest the grace these characters find in the wilderness and one another. This timeless story of loss, hope, and adventure runs like the river itself amid the vividly rendered landscape of the Upper Midwest.

My Review:

Raft of Stars has such a great set up, two boys running away from a crime they committed. This sounded to me like the makings of a fantastic coming of age story. And while the book was enjoyable, I felt like it lacked the depth that I was expecting. The entire book alternates between the boys running away, getting deeper into the forest, and the adults chasing after them. I felt like the novel focused on what was going on and the action, and not as much on character or plot development. The result is a novel that feels much more like a YA story than a mature and emotional read. There were quite a few characters with baggage, but once again they don’t get developed enough to allow a chance to feel any kind of connection with them. I think if you go into this book knowing it’s more an action story that a coming of age tale, you will enjoy it. And I did like it, but I was expecting to really love it, but that just wasn’t the case.

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing me a free digital copy of Malibu Rising in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

My Review:

Well, I will start by saying that I anticipate being in the minority on this one, I did like Malibu Rising but I didn’t love it, even though I have really liked a lot of TJR’s previous novels. So for this review, I am going to be comparing and contrasting what I liked and didn’t like.

What I liked: The characters. In my opinion TJR write some of the most relatable, honest and realistic characters. I fell in love with the Riva siblings and honestly, I wanted to know more! They are such a dynamic group that they could easily fill another novel! I felt like in Malibu Rising, the siblings are written as a collective group, but I would have liked to get to know each one on a deeper individual level.

The past couple novels from TJR (Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) had very strong settings, focused on a specific decade, and were very well done in that regard. However, in Malibu Rising, set in the 80’s, I just didn’t get as strong of vibes for the decade. Maybe it’s because the 80’s aren’t all that long ago, but other than a few descriptions of some outfits, the decade nuances just did not shine through in this novel.

The biggest problem I had was with the structure and setup for the entire novel. The book takes places over the course of 24 hours, part one is 7am to 7pm, and part two is 7pm to 7am. Part one leads up to the big party Nina is going to have at her house at 7pm. When I saw that the book was set up this way, I was thrilled. I think a book taking place in just 24 hours is so fun! However, in part one, each chapter is an hour in the day (7 am, 8 am, 9 am etc). But within each chapter, only about 10% was about what was happening in the present and instead was 90% about backstory of the Riva’s parent’s meeting, marriage, and lives. I just thought it didn’t make sense to have each chapter take place in an hour of the day, but spend almost the whole chapter in the past.

I think it would have worked better to make part one about the Riva’s parents’ story, and part two be about the Riva siblings. I think I would have been more engaged that way, but instead the pacing was clunky and didn’t ever have that “pull you in” moment.

Did I like the book: Yes, it was entertaining and interesting. But I did not love it, I had too many issues to love it. I will still continue to read what Taylor Jenkins Reid puts out, because I think she is a very talent writer and storyteller. I would also still recommend this book if it sounds appealing to you or if you really like TJR. I did really like the ending and how everything came together, but as I type this, it’s been about a week since I finished the book and I already feel it fading from my memory.

Book Review: Surrender the Dead by John Burley

Book Review: Surrender the Dead by John Burley

Thank you to William Morrow books for sending me a free copy of Surrender the Dead in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

When Erin Reece left Wolf Point fifteen years ago after graduating high school, she’d planned to never set foot in her childhood hometown again. But an urgent phone call from her father’s doctor leaves Erin with no choice but to return to a place filled with painful memories and wounds that never closed. Two decades ago, people in Wolf Point started disappearing without a trace—including Erin’s mother—and no explanation was ever found.

It’s been years since the last disappearance, but the town is still steeped in suspicion and haunted by the ghosts of the missing. No one is thrilled to see Erin back, including her former best friend, Robbie, who has changed from a spirited, fearless boy to a reclusive shut-in.

Then a body is discovered, buried in a makeshift grave for years . . . on the Reece family’s land. The police reopen their investigation, and the evidence against Erin’s father is damning. After such a long time without answers, the community wants justice. It’s up to Erin to clear her father’s name, but the path to the truth will force her to unearth long-buried secrets and confront a terrible evil. Because in Wolf Point, everyone knows more than they are letting on . . . 

My Review:

Sometimes when a book is described as a slow burn, I think, “Ok, it’s slow paced, I won’t like it”. I always prefer a faster paced book, and can only handle a slower novel if it’s done right. Surrender the Dead is one that is done right! And it is causing me to realize that people use the phrase “slow burn” too frequently and inaccurately. In order to really call a book a slow burn novel, it has to have that tension simmering just below the surface. It has to keep you invested and wanting to keep reading. Maybe it doesn’t move at break neck speed, but you can just tell everything is all building up to something cacophonous!

That was exactly the case with Surrender the Dead. This was one of those books that I carried around with me, trying to sneak in a chapter between every adult responsibility I had, I just couldn’t put it down! A lot of back story gets filled in between the present day chapters, and some chapters were outright terrifying as they described some of the abductions that occurred in the small town of Wolf Point 20 years prior. But the back and forth of timelines wasn’t confusing and I had no problem following along.

The characters were well developed and gave me a sense that Burley really cares about his characters and what happens to them. The relationships were very natural and endearing and added such emotional depth to this thriller, which is not common in the genre. It was heartfelt and thought provoking and a really nice change of pace for me. The ending was wild, full of twists and so much fun! I highly recommend this one!

Book Review: A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson

Book Review: A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson

Thank you to William Morrow for sending me a free copy of A Solitude of Wolverines in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

While studying wolverines on a wildlife sanctuary in Montana, biologist Alex Carter is run off the road and threatened by locals determined to force her off the land.

Undeterred in her mission to help save this threatened species, Alex tracks wolverines on foot and by cameras positioned in remote regions of the preserve. But when she reviews the photos, she discovers disturbing images of an animal of a different kind: a severely injured man seemingly lost and wandering in the wilds.

After searches for the unknown man come up empty, local law enforcement is strangely set on dismissing the case altogether, raising Alex’s suspicions. Then another invasive predator trespasses onto the preserve. The hunter turns out to be another human—and the prey is the wildlife biologist herself. Alex realizes too late that she has seen too much—she’s stumbled onto a far-reaching illegal operation and now has become the biggest threat.

In this wild and dangerous landscape, Alex’s life depends on staying one step ahead—using all she knows about the animal world and what it takes to win the brutal battle for survival.

My Review:

A Solitude of Wolverines was such a fun surprise of a suspense book! Part wildlife conservation novel, part suspense thriller, this book is a rare gem!

Before I go any further, I have to comment on the extremely informative land and wildlife conservation portions of the book. Henderson really did her research, and provided what I have to believe are very accurate facts about conversation efforts as well as the life of a conservationist. This is a topic I am definitley interested in but don’t know much about so I really enjoyed learning more about it, and I always love when I can learn from the books I read!

The suspense parts of this book came in little spurts, and at times the plot felt a little loose, like I wasn’t always sure where it was heading, but the ending was spectacularly exciting! I really liked the main character Alex, I felt like she was one of the most realistic female characters I have read in a while. All of her choices are justified and it made her feel like a friend you might already know. There were never any of those moments when you just have to roll your eyes at the stupid life choices the female lead is making, Alex is a female character you can look up to!

I have heard this is the first book in a series, each book focusing on a different animal for conservation efforts, and if that is true, I am definitely on board for the next wild ride! I would recommend this one to suspense lovers and suspense newbies alike! There wasn’t a ton of violence so it would work for those who prefer a tamer thriller.

Book Review: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

Book Review: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free digital copy of Every Last Fear in exchange for my hoenst review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

“They found the bodies on a Tuesday.” So begins this twisty and breathtaking novel that traces the fate of the Pine family, a thriller that will both leave you on the edge of your seat and move you to tears.

After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

Told through multiple points-of-view and alternating between past and present, Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is not only a page-turning thriller, it’s also a poignant story about a family managing heartbreak and tragedy, and living through a fame they never wanted.

Review:

Over the last few years I have become much more selective on the thrillers I pick up. There are just so many out there, yet they all seem to contain many of the same elements: husbands and wives who lie and cheat, murder for money, or any other nature of scandalous behavior you can cook up. In my opinion, they tend to be a little over the top and unrealistic for my liking.

So the fact that I decided to pick up Every Last Fear should already be an indication to you that it might be a cut above the rest. And boy did it deliver! I loved the combination of small town scandal, mixed with the NYU student trying to leave the past in the past. This novel woven an intricate web to develop a plot that left me guessing until the end.

Matt and his NYU friends added a nice heartwarming component to what would otherwise be a stone cold murder mystery. It was interesting to see Matt grapple with what had happened in the past and with the murder of his family in the present, and seeing how he was trying to grow from it. The support of his motley group of friends was endearing and a nice personal touch.

I also enjoyed the past and present timelines, as well as the multiple viewpoints. Sometimes in books that do that, I tend to crave one particular viewpoint over another but that wasn’t the case with Every Last Fear. It actually felt necessary to hear from everyone to get the full scope of what was going on. The ending was a giant bombshell that pulled everything together! I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it!

Book Review: The Dead Season by Tessa Wegert

Book Review: The Dead Season by Tessa Wegert

The Dead Season by Tessa Wegert

This is the second installment in the Shana Merchant detective series, and while it was extremely different from the first book, I enjoyed this one just as much!

Synopsis:

After leaving the NYPD following her abduction by serial killer Blake Bram, Shana Merchant hoped for a fresh start in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. Her former tormentor has other plans. Shana and Bram share more than just a hometown, and he won’t let her forget it. When the decades-old skeleton of Shana’s estranged uncle is uncovered, Bram issues a challenge: Return home to Vermont and solve the cold case, or the blood he spills next will be on her hands.

As Shana interviews members of her family and the community, mining for secrets that could help her solve her uncle’s murder, she begins to realize how little she remembers of her childhood. And when Bram grows impatient and kidnaps again, leaving a trail of clues Shana alone can understand, she knows his new victim will only survive if she wins the psychopath’s twisted game. In order to solve one mystery, Shana must wade into her murky past to unravel another.

My Review:

I think the best way to come at this review is to tie in the first book in this series Death in the Family. In Death, Shana and Tim head to a remote island in New York’s Thousand Island region to investigate a murder in the only house on the island. The family who lives there have gathered for a reunion, and one of the members turns up missing under suspicious circumstances. A locked room type mystery, inspired by Agatha Christies’ And Then There Were None, I extremely enjoyed it, and also felt similar vibes to the movie Knives Out (but without the humor).

So why the need to mention Death in the Family first? There’s a good answer for that: Shana is suffering from PTSD during that novel, from an abduction shortly before the investigation. Her PTSD symptoms flare in the isolated setting and she makes some poor choices during the investigation but is thankfully rescued by her colleague Tim.

The circumstances of Shana’s abduction are only hinted at in Death, but in The Dead Season, they are addressed head on. In this second novel, Shana is on leave in order to recuperate her mental state. When she gets news that the remains of her long lost uncle are recovered in her hometown, she makes the drive back home to help the local police investigate. However, she quickly realizes that her abductor, who was never caught, has lured her there to toy with her.

I absolutely loved this set up! A more traditional approach would be to start a series learning about the main detective, but I loved that Wegert set up a little mystery surrounding Shanna first, and didn’t reveal her dark past until the second book. Some of the best detective novels have strong, stoic characters whose troubled pasts always make them better at their jobs. This series does just that, and after just two books in the series, I am fully vested!

In The Dead Season, all the characters in Shana’s hometown are examined as possible suspects, and I feel that this was really well by Wegert. Rather than introduce one character after another to the point where the reader can’t keep them straight, she introduces just one or two at a time and weaves them into the story seamlessly. I honestly didn’t know who to suspect and was surprised to find out who really had killed Shana’s uncle 20 years before.

I highly recommend this series and cannot wait to see where it goes from here! But a fair warning: The Dead Season ends in a major cliffhanger! Happy reading!

Book Review: A Caller’s Game by J.D.Barker

Book Review: A Caller’s Game by J.D.Barker

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a free digital copy of A Caller’s Game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences. 

My Review:

Wow. Just….wow. This was a non-stop roller coaster ride of a suspense novel that read like an action movie. From the very first page, the reader is treated to razor sharp wit in the form of main character Jordan Briggs, a shock-jock on a satellite radio morning show. A strange call into the show from a listener sends Jordan and the entirety of New York City into terrifying chaos, as bombs begin to explode across the city. From there, this novel peels back layer after layer to unfold a very gripping story.

I do feel like parts of the plot were a little bit of a stretch, realistically speaking, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun read, because it was for sure. I also liked the way Barker spiraled Jordan’s character from the strong woman in the beginning into some much deeper and darker components as the story moved on. The big reveals in the novel made sense and gave a lot of depth to the overall plot. I think the book was a little on the long side, but overall, an extremely entertaining read!

*Trigger Warnings* I do feel the need to mention that due to the violent nature of the bombings in NYC the take place in the A Caller’s Game, this books could potentially trigger some troubling emotions in anyone that was connected to the events of 9/11 in any way.

New Year, New Goals

New Year, New Goals

New Year’s Goals

I absolutely love the first day of a new year. I am an extremely organized and goal oriented person, and that first crisp winter day feels like a world of possibilities are on the horizon. I have a common theme among all of the goals I set for myself: I like to challenge myself but still be realistic. I wouldn’t classify myself as an over-achiever, but I do like to feel successful and accomplished and my goals will reflect that!

But this is a book blog, so I will move on towards my bookish goals for the year 2021. And I just have to mention that it felt great to write that. 2021. Thank goodness! Without further ado: here are some book related goals I have for myself in what I hope will be a much better year than 2020.

Let’s Talk Numbers: The easiest goal to set is the number of books I want to read in the year. A few years ago I set a goal of 100 books and achieved it. The next year, I set my goal at 101. My thoughts were that I wanted to achieve more than I had the previous year, but let’s be real, setting it a lot higher like 125 or 150 is just too high. I do have a full time job and a family after all, and there will eventually be a limit as to how many books I can feasibly read in a year, so I thought, “Why not just increase by one each year?”. So my numbers goal for 2021 is: 103. One more than last year.

Slow Down: This one is a little easier said than done. I love reading, and since starting my Instagram page and this blog, I read more than ever before and I love it! And I realized that keeping up with these pages adds a little pressure to my reading life. Not a lot, not uncomfortable, but enough to encourage me to keep reading and make sure I read everyday. The result of that pressure, however, is the reading of a ton of books! And don’t all readers have those moments where they wish they could read all the books all the time!? I really do want to read ALL. THE. BOOKS. But with that being said, I don’t want to race too fast through my books and instead want to slow down, just a little. It is completely reasonable to take a week to read a book and I need to remind myself that when I start to stress that I have been reading a book for three days and am only halfway through.

Read One Book At A Time: Ok, this one might seem silly to some of you who never even considered reading more than one book at a time. But, when you want to read all the books, like I do, sometimes you are dying to pick up your next read before your current read is even finished! I had moments in 2020 where I was in the middle of as many as six books. That’s just silly. I really want to pull back on that and (try) to read only one book at a time, at least for the majority of the year.

Authors and Specifics: My last goal involves some specific books and authors that I want to read. Last year, I wanted to read all of Karin Slaughter’s backlist, both the Grant County and Will Trent series. I made it only through the Grant County series, so this year I will continue with Will Trent. I would also like to read my first Lee Child book. He is such a well renown crime fiction author and I have never read anything he has written, so this year I will change that.

That’s all folks. Simple, right. We shall see what this year brings, hopefully some positivity, some joy, and lots and lots of reading. Happy New Year friends!

-Lindsay

Book Review: These Women by Ivy Pochoda

Book Review: These Women by Ivy Pochoda

Thank you to Ecco books for sending me a free copy of These Women. All opinions in this review are my own.

Synopsis:

In West Adams, a rapidly changing part of South Los Angeles, they’re referred to as “these women.” These women on the corner … These women in the club … These women who won’t stop asking questions … These women who got what they deserved … 

In her masterful new novel, Ivy Pochoda creates a kaleidoscope of loss, power, and hope featuring five very different women whose lives are steeped in danger and anguish. They’re connected by one man and his deadly obsession, though not all of them know that yet. There’s Dorian, still adrift after her daughter’s murder remains unsolved; Julianna, a young dancer nicknamed Jujubee, who lives hard and fast, resisting anyone trying to slow her down; Essie, a brilliant vice cop who sees a crime pattern emerging where no one else does; Marella, a daring performance artist whose work has long pushed boundaries but now puts her in peril; and Anneke, a quiet woman who has turned a willfully blind eye to those around her for far too long. The careful existence they have built for themselves starts to crumble when two murders rock their neighborhood.

My Review:

These Women is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. Even though the synopsis tells you that the book is about “these women” getting murdered in Los Angeles, the focus of the book is on the women themselves. Rather than follow a typical detective style or police procedural hunt for a serial killer, Pochoda instead introduces us to the women one by one. The story is told in a few sections, each section from the point of view of another woman, all interconnected to one another. They are mothers, daughters, neighbors, and friends among other things. But their society has only seen them as “those women”.

So what are “those women”. Simply put: sex workers or prostitutes. But what this novel does is show the reader that they are not simple. They are so much more than their work. They are strong women, fighters, not willing to give up, trying day after day to carve a better life for themselves. But as they are murdered, those left behind see that not much effort is put into finding the killer because society doesn’t see the importance of a mere sex worker or the need to spend the time or money needed for a full investigation.

These Women is a raw look into the lives of those not as fortunate, those that some view as insignificant. It examines the judgement society places on people and how that judgement makes it harder for those women or people to rise up and overcome obstacles. It sheds light onto the need that some people have to simply rid prostitutes of their neighborhoods, without one thought about what exactly would happen to those women. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Even though this novel is crime fiction, I absolutely loved that the crime was not in the forefront, and that as the reader I got the chance to know the victims more personally. A traditional crime novel focuses on the perpetrator, not the victims, which makes this a standout read! I enjoyed it and know this one will stay with me for a long time. I always love when a book forces me to see another point of view.

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter


Thank you to Atria books for sending me a copy of The Preserve! This action packed sci-fi thriller is out today and you don’t want to miss it!

Decimated by plague, the human population is now a minority. Robots—complex AIs almost indistinguishable from humans—are the ruling majority. Nine months ago, in a controversial move, the robot government opened a series of preserves, designated areas where humans can choose to live without robot interference. Now the preserves face their first challenge: someone has been murdered. 


Synopsis:

Chief of Police Jesse Laughton on the SoCar Preserve is assigned to the case. He fears the factions that were opposed to the preserves will use the crime as evidence that the new system does not work. As he digs for information, robots in the outside world start turning up dead from bad drug-like programs that may have originated on SoCar land. And when Laughton learns his murder victim was a hacker who wrote drug-programs, it appears that the two cases might be linked. Soon, it’s clear that the entire preserve system is in danger of collapsing. Laughton’s former partner, a robot named Kir, arrives to assist on the case, and they soon uncover shocking secrets revealing that life on the preserve is not as peaceful as its human residents claim. But in order to protect humanity’s new way of life, Laughton must solve this murder before it’s too late. 

The Preserve is a fresh and futuristic mystery that is perfect for fans of Westworld and Blade Runner.